Goodbye Letter

So it wasn’t just t-shirts that got me thinking the other night in my chocolate (and probably PMS) induced sleeplessness.

I’m behind in my correspondence.

It’s been years since I wrote dear old dad a letter, and him being (hopefully) close to his deathbed, perhaps it’s time to drop him a line.

I sent him a fathers day card a few years ago. I found one with a sappy saying “Thanks for a lifetime of happy memories”, crossed out the word “happy” and sent it to him, unsigned. I think he knows who sent it though. I’d planned to make it a yearly event (I figured if he gets to get away with raping me, then me sending him a nasty card once a year is certainly within my rights. ) However, like I said, I’m behind in my correspondence.

So let me rehearse my draft to him here.

Dear Dad (yes, I’m using the term, since well, he is my Da, and it’s what I called him last I spoke to him. The word ‘Dad’ just doesn’t have the same meaning for me as it does for other folks, I think. Then again, since a full 20% of all people in the US have been abused, my meaning might be more common than it appears.  )

So I hear you’re dying of cancer.

Good.

Hope it’s really really painful.

I wanted you to know some things before you die. First off,  the police MP have you in a database of sexual offenders, and have been watching you, so if you are thinking of getting in a bit more abuse before you go, know that they will pull you in and I’d be delighted to provide a character reference.

Secondly, you know all that Christian stuff about forgiveness you were taught? I didn’t buy it. As you may have heard, I’ve gone back to my Pagan Scottish roots, which make a lot more sense. I want you to go into your death knowing that I don’t forgive you for raping me and for insulting the honour of our family, and I never will. I won’t be laying flowers on your grave, and neither will anyone else.

However, I want to give you one thing, one secret, before you die. The only way to go into death clean is to feel remorse for the horrors you’ve done.  I suggest you get down to it right away. Our family doesn’t need a restless ghost.

I want you to think about your death, about your own soul, which you have dishonoured, and which surely must be a bleeding scrap by now. I know your father beat you, and I don’t know what else happened to set you up to believe that raping your daughter was an option, but I don’t care.  I know you think your drinking was an excuse. It’s not.

I assume you’re a sociopath, but who’s to know? I certainly have no sane fathers to compare you to. I remember when you found me on the highway, unconscious, after I was hit by that car, and you told me how you’d realized in that moment you loved me, with great surprize in your voice. Do you remember that? It actually makes sense, for a sociopath to be surprised at experiencing love, however briefly.

I told your mother you abused me before she died and she believed me.

Everyone believed me.

Right away.

They figured, yes, it was something you’d do.

Do you know that you are legendary for your selfishness? At my wedding, someone made a selfish, arrogant and self-centred statement and someone else said he was just like you. Go into your death knowing you are not forgiven, but you will be forgotten. You have done nothing of value.

I have lived my entire life trying to overcome the pain you inflicted on me, and I curse you for it.

I do not need to kill you. Mother Nature will do it for me. I would not dishonour myself by making myself a murderer. But know this. When you die, I will rejoice and I will claim your death as my victory. I declare victory over you now, for you will be dead soon, and I will be alive and happy.

I win.

Slogans for Survivor Pride Parades

Last night, I made the mistake of eating a bit too much chocolate before bed (it was worth it) and lay awake for awhile.

May We Outlive Them T-Shirt

My last post got me thinking about “Survivor Pride” and how I might incite it. “Incest Survivor Pride” has the wrong ring to it, I think, since I’m certainly not happy or proud that incest was inflicted upon me. I am, however, proud of how I’ve responded. People seem to get all sappy about veterans, how about “Incest Veteran Pride”.

Victor Frankl was a man who to me has ‘survivor cred’ about choosing a brave and resilient response to injustice, being a holocaust survivor who turned his experiences there into a theory and practice of choosing one’s response to suffering and making meaning of it.

He has some interesting quotes:

If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life – an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.Man’s Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy, Boston: Beacon, ISBN (Okay, sexist title, but I’ve read it and I forgive him for it.)

What is to give light must endure the burning.

Everything can be taken away from a man [sic] but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

There was also one I couldn’t find a direct quote for, but which has been paraphrased as: “even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and non-decent ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups.”

I wasn’t thinking last night about meaningful, literary quotes, although, with the caveat of the sexism, I support all the above in relation to incest and sexual abuse.

Last night I was thinking about t-shirts. Cheap, popular and visible, gay people have used them to come out publicly and make statements for decades.

In my mind I designed a t-shirt with a circular medalion on it, kind of a coat of arms, with my tai chi sword crossed with a thumb-width stick. Above it the lettering would say.

Child Sexual Abuse
May We Outlive them All

and below it it would say

And Dance Upon Their Graves!

Other shirts would say:

i-survived

I’ve survived much worse than this. I can do anything!

This is a good day…
to dance on my abusers grave!

To suffer – is human…
To survive…. is a lot of damn work!

If you think I’m bloodthirsty – you should meet the bastard I survived! (this one needs work, I think…)

Where were you all when I was being tortured?

Your fear won’t protect them. Abused children need strong communities.

I went through hell as a child and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!

I only look underfunctioning when you make my obstacles invisible.

I survived incest in childhood. Where’s my trophy?

You get the idea – I’d welcome any others (or refinements on mine) in comments.

Coming Out

As a lesbian, I’m no stranger to coming out. Coming out is the antidote to shame when you’re a gay person, a way of demonstrating to one’s own soul that you love yourself just the way you are.  I live in Canada, where I can marry the person of my choice and no-one can fire me for being gay – unless they lie about it. (My hypercompetent wife was once suspiciously let go after she listed me as her spouse with human resources).

I can’t tell you enough how much easier it is to come out now that we can get married. I know now that if I walk into an emergency room with my wife, as happened last summer when she had an infected tooth, that if anyone has any problem with me being her next of kin, there’s nothing they can do about it. Anyone who denies me my wifely privileges is heading for a sure loss, both in court and in the court of public opinion, which is overwhelmingly in support of our rights here. I am blessed to be Canadian.

I was reading a post on a blog about mental illness  just now that talks about what the author describes as the ‘s-word’. The word stigma means “stain or reproach caused by dishonorable conduct” and is used to describe both how people (such as persons with a mental illness and their families) feel about themselves and how others feel about them.  It refers to an ancient practice of marking social outcasts with a mark, called a stigma. She prefers the much more accurate  “unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination”, a phrase borrowed from Barack Obama because ‘stigma’ implies the person did something to deserve a bad reputation.

I’ve always thought the word ‘homophobic person’ should be replaced by the term “political opponent”, “anti-gay person” or “bigot”.

People don’t discriminate against or kill gay people because they have an irrational fear of us after all. They discriminate because they know that allowing people to make their own sexual, relationship and moral choices, based on their own conscience, undermines the power of authoritarian institutions such as conservative churches and male-centric hierarchical families. If you have two women together, which one subsumes her career, life and identity to care for the other? If you have two men together, might they prove that men can have a relationship of equals and inspire straight women to demand their men do the same? My utopia is my opponents’ loss of structure and status.

I rather suspect that the reasons for the UBSD (unecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination) are similar to the reasons my opponents try to deny gay people our civil rights. If all incest survivors could talk openly about our truth, then “The Family” suffers an unfortunately deserved public relations breakdown.  All hierarchical relationships in or outside the home would be recognized as magnets for abusers. “Father knows Best” would be undermined irreparably.

So how do I, as an incest survivor, experience unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination?

It’s hard for me to think in those terms. Unlike the gay pride movement, there is no ‘incest survivor pride’ movement (yet) to help me separate myself in thought from the sea of social norms and prejudices. I have to feel my way, sometimes blindly,  to truth and clarity.

Perhaps the barriers, stereotypes and discrimination I fear can be revealed in these questions:

  • Would you hire me to care for your kids if you knew I was an incest survivor? Why or why not?
  • Would you expect me to be reliable and responsible at my job as a computer programmer, doctor or lawyer?
  • Who do you think is more likely to be violent? an incest survivor or a non-survivor?
  • Would you date an incest survivor? Marry one?
  • Do you think incest survivors should just get over it and shut up? It can’t be so bad – since children don’t remember much anyhow.
  • If we are discussing our families and whether we”ll be seeing them over Christmas/Solstice/Chanukka, is it permissible in polite company to say “I don’t see my father, he’s a child abuser.”? Or would a more dishonest or evasive answer always be preferred? If so, do survivors ever get to be honest about their lives and experiences in regular life? What do you think the impact is of never getting to tell the truth about one’s life?
  • My sister in law asked me what to tell her children about their grandfather. She has no cultural stories to guide her in this, because of the silence that surrounds incest, and no-one else to ask but me, since she can’t ask for advice from her friends, like she could about diaper rash or potty training. I said to tell them “He has something wrong with him that makes him hurt other people. We keep you away from him to keep you safe.” Why are there no fairy tales or cultural stories about parents protecting children from evil relatives?  Because as a culture we have not clearly decided to whom our loyalties lie. families are just as likely to turn a blind eye and permit funny uncles and abuser daddies access to children as not. My brother  and sister in law are fortunately sensible people but just in case I made it clear that if I learned that my father had access to the children I would call the police.
  • When my father dies, do I get to tell? If social acquaintances find out and say “I’m sorry”, is it permissible to say “Don’t be. I’m not.”  If not, do I have to pretend to reflect the presumed norm that people generally like their fathers, and render myself and my complicated grief, not for his death, but for my life, invisible at the time I need support the most?
  • Why is it that sex workers under the age of 18 are referred to as ‘prostitutes’ rather than ‘child sexual abuse victims’?  Does that mean that having sex with children okay as long as they appear to consent and you pay them or their owners for it? Why is the story of  ‘Lolita‘  not framed as a book about child sexual abuse instead of a titilating tale of male fantasy about a girl-child’s supposed seduction of an old man?
  • Why is it considered sexy or even acceptable to refer to one’s lover as ‘daddy’ and dress up as a little girl or boy for sexual purposes? Can you think of how that might be insulting and horrifying to those who actually had to have intercourse with their ‘daddies’? Most people don’t, apparently.  I know in my bones that sexualizing sex with children makes it that much easier for the evil ones and that much harder to speak up when you’ve actually experienced it. How do I speak up about this without the vulnerability that comes with disclosing my horrific past?
  • Does disclosing my past add to my credibilty on these topics, or destroy it?

As a lesbian I am in community, through my community newspapers and events, with lots of people whose sexuality lies outside the norm. Because we know what it’s like to be a minority, our community has a party line of being accepting of people whose sexual preferences are unusual that I think often goes too far.

There. I’ve said it.

I’ve been at public events where I’ve seen one human being lead a bound and gagged other around on a leash. I know straight people do this too, probably even more of them since there are more straight people in the first place. However,  I don’t have to be around them and I am not pressured into pretending to be their ally. I’m supposed to be proud of them for being ‘out’ when in fact all seeing them does is remind me, viscerally,  of being restrained, suffocated and raped. As an incest survivor and a good community member, I’m not allowed to tell them how their stupid and insensitive actions hurt me.

As an incest survivor, I’m absolutely certain that coercive sex or the appearance of coercive sex should never be accepted as sexy or positive. If you haven’t truly been coerced into sex, on fear of your life, over and over again, you’ve no f-ing business pretending it’s fun.

The same goes for calling your partner ‘daddy’ or dressing as a child for sexual purposes. To my mind, that’s advertizing for the enemy, feeding their rationalizations and those of people who look the other way.  However, to call these people on their crap, I first have to come out as an incest survivor, and endure the “oh, that’s why she’s so sensitive” looks or comments.

I lived through years of torture. I’ve done my time. My experience and authority on this subject should be accepted. If  a survivor of Abu Ghraib (the prison where US soldiers tortured and sexually assaulted Iraqi prisoners) objected to people framing prison interrogator/prisoner ‘scenes’ as sexy, he would be accorded much more respect.

So that’s why I, who am not the least afraid of letting people know I’m gay, find it hard to come out as a survivor. Those are some of the barriers that must be removed. Like suffragette Sarah Grimké, I want no special favours, only the right to be openly who I am without judgement or discrimination.  I am brave, I am smart, I am capable. I am socially and financially successful, resilient and strong.  I need to stand my own ground, in my own truth. I deserve to be respected for my strengths and the wisdom that I’ve earned, and accorded the right to be truthful about my life.

I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God has designed us to occupy.
– Sarah Grimké, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women; Boston, 1838.

Trying to make it Normal

I spent the weekend with a bunch of friends and acquaintances at a storytelling retreat. At this same retreat last year was the first time I told people publicly that I intend to dance on my father’s grave. It was an incredibly important experience for me then, to speak of my loneliness being a high-functioning and therefore able-to -hide survivor of extreme abuse.  It was a kind of coming out, and like all coming out experiences, helped me connect with allies and support I would not have dreamed possible.

This year, I wanted to tell them how the project was coming along. I wanted to tell these kind, sympathetic women how six months after I told them how I was waiting for my father to die, I got news that he’d been in the hospital for months and had cancer again. I wanted to tell them how I’d been planning, preparing a rite of passage for myself, a brave act of victory and inspiration for others.

I ended up feeling more and more alone.

I am not brave. I am not a sword dance warrior waging glorious psychic battle with the patriarchy as embodied in its one evil representative in my life.

I am horribly exposed.

As I sit here, typing, gasping for breath amid sobs, from long habit permitting and encouraging myself to sob until it is all released, I feel like I have undermined all my efforts to be a success in this world, that people I know, know that I am damaged and not well socialized enough to keep my dirty secrets, fears and spiritual sorrows private in polite company.

Ice Wall II by Etolane
Ice Wall II by Etolane

I am pressed up against the wall of ice that is the silence around incest, trying  so hard not to beg, please, please let me be part of you in my whole self. Let me be a normal person with normal responses to a horrific tragedy. Let me speak  the truth of my life without making you look at me with discomfort.

Please let me be real.

My friend, who is also a brave warrior, suggests I scan and publish the art piece I made on the first night there, when it felt like I was a stream of hot lava running through a landscape meant to be watercolours and comedy, politeness and laughter.I willed myself to be truthful, to claim the right to be me in an intimate environment, knowing that successful art comes from rigorous truth. I avoided graphic details out of concern for virgin ears, and to keep the focus on my Quest. Other women could talk about the painful truths of their life, divorce, loves lost, abortions and miscarriages, loss of beloved parents, but my losses are too bizarrre to share, too evocative and raw.

As an act of courage, I ruthlessly returned to the art I wanted to make and share, the story of my quest to reclaim the right of women who have been raped to openly challenge their abusers and avenge their honour, if only in symbolic terms.  I wanted to see and hear women understand, but I don’t have any evidence they did.

On the last day, one woman, a therapist, self-confessed ‘not-a-survivor-herself’ but a therapist to many survivors over the years took exception to a phrase I used, as feminists often sadly feel the right to do.

I had used it to describe my conviction that I had been exposed, by listening to survivors I’d sat in support meetings with and in other contexts, to women who had experienced the full range of the horror of sexual abuse, from molestation to rape to ritual abuse. She said this had been disrespectful to survivors, since I couldn’t possibly have heard ‘everything’. My point had been that a thing I valued about myself was that when listening to a woman’s story, I listened for what she wanted to tell me, and didn’t get distracted by the drama of the horror. I knew of and accepted the fact of a very large range of abuse so didn’t need to attach energy to them if it wasn’t the main topic the survivor wanted to discuss.

When I tell someone about my experience, I don’t normally want them to get caught up in the dramatic and graphic details, but in the meaning I am trying to make of them, how they affect me now or even just to provide context for an everyday experience affected by my past.  I’d been really trying to say, probably, “Listen to my story, but don’t get caught up in pity or disgust. I have a richer story to tell about this if you don’t get caught up in the horror.”

Frankly, once I got over the hurt, if I have as yet, it seemed to me that this was like a white person telling a black person something they said might be disrespectful to black people. None of the other survivors I spoke to after my story seemed to have any issue with it, and I know for sure I would not have been offended had someone else said what I’d said. Perhaps it would have been offensive or disrespectful coming from someone ‘not-a-survivor-herself’, depending on the attitude that accompanied it. I’d be inclined to say that if you’re not a survivor yourself,  you can’t know.

When I was single and told lovers I was a survivor, it wasn’t because I wanted to get into it and kill the mood (although it unfortunately might have at times), but because, like a hip injury or an STD, they needed to know in order to understand why I might have some limits to the way I could have sex and it was a big deal that they be respected.

The neighbourhood where I live has a lot of lesbians living in it. This has the advantage of being a place where people are blessedly bored with the whole concept of lesbians. I can hold hands or go shopping for household items with my wife with no funny looks or awkwardness and interact with people without the gay thing getting in the way.

While I don’t want people to be bored with incest, which of course still needs to be aggressively stopped whenever and wherever it is noticed, I’d sure like it if my normal, everyday, Pagan rite of passage for the death of a mortal enemy could be viewed as a reasonable and expected thing for a survivor to do. I’d like it if survivors, like the wounded shamans of other cultures, were regarded with respect for their courage, resilience and earned wisdom. Christopher Reeves, the superman who bravely soldiered on after a spinal cord sports injury, is heralded as a hero, which may in fact be so, but where are our incest survivor comeback stories, from women who’ve sustained injuries as deep and debilitating and have triumphed?

As I tell my story, I tell myself that that is what I am creating that space for myself and others, a way of viewing survivors as heroic/heraic figures. May the all that I hold holy – earth, water and fire and air and the truth/life/sacred at the centre of all things –  bless me with the courage and support I need.

What I might have been

I’m forty now. I haven’t had any children and I’ve decided not to try.  It’s a good thing, really, that my spouse doesn’t want kids iether, since I’ve been thinking a lot about kids since I turned forty and if I didn’t have such an awesome birth control method, I might ambivalently allow myself to get pregnant. A lot of births happen that way, I think.

Would I have had kids if I wasn’t an incest survivor? Maybe. When I was younger, I thought the pain of childbirth might trigger too much the pain of being raped as a child.  I didn’t think I could handle it, and knew I didn’t have the support in my life if it turned out I couldn’t.  There is really almost no systemic or societal support for incest survivors. If I had cancer or diabetes or a head injury, I could go to a support group in a hospital for free, talk about my life-challenging injury or illness freely, and even get my friends to walk in walkathons or shave their head or register to donate bone marrow in support.

But I’m an incest survivor. When I was very young I faced the threat of death, injury and loss of control over my own body on a daily basis. For a decade. Continually. While being forced on implicit threat of more violence to stay quiet about it and hide any effects on my person or behaviour.  With no resources, money, status or external support of my own.  With not even the knowledge that sustained people interred in concentration camps that the abusers were morally wrong and that others were going through the same thing. With only the hope of growing up and getting out to sustain me.

I hoped as a child that I would grow up and get married and get away. This was the reason to live. I looked forward to having sex, since everyone said it was such a good thing. Doing it made you an adult. Like many girls I made up names for my future children, and figured out whether I was going to be a teacher or a nurse when I grew up, those being the only choices presented.

I apparently tested at the top of the charts in the intelligence tests all kids were administered in elementary school, 98 percentile, meaning only 2 percent of all children my age tested higher. I read at a grade 12 level when I was in grade six. I was told, along with the other three girls who tested as high and were sent off to ‘enrichment’ class, that we were the hope of the future, Canada’s future leaders and we would solve the big world issues of nuclear proliferation, world peace and the environment. Even at the time I thought this was unfair. Why should the adults wait till I grew up to solve these problems? They created them, didn’t they? They were so much more powerful than I, so how could I fix things if they couldn’t?

A three dollar lock for my bedroom door would have made all the difference, had I known I had a right to one. I’m told by women who were social workers in those days that no-one was on the lookout for child sexual abuse, that telling might not have done much good.  Perhaps I can let go of hating the teachers that didn’t identify that I needed help. Surely things are different now.  I don’t think I can let go of hating the systemic sexism that made it possible. I know things aren’t different now.

I live in a neighbourhood where women who sell sexual services to survive work nearby. Many of them show signs of being meth users – the awkward floppy legged walk from nerve damage, visible wounds and bruises at times. All are bone-rack skinny and wear clothing insufficient to the elements. I know many feminists argue that prostitution is a legitimate profession, and I’ll allow it could be, in settings where the working conditions weren’t so appalling. I called an ambulance for a woman with so much skin ripped away from her chest that I could see raw meat underneath. Her ‘boyfriend’ really didn’t want her to go to a hospital, and tried to talk me out of calling, then dissapeared by the time the ambulance arrived. The fact that women in these straights still exist mean to me that men like my father still exist.

I was laying awake this morning thinking about what I could do today to make me feel better. I’d love to go for a walk in the large semi-natural city park we have, if I wasn’t sure I’d be afraid all the time, walking through the beautiful, sacred forest, praying and connecting energetically with the earth as is my right as a religious Pagan, that some asshole would steal my body and perhaps my life away from me again.  Christians don’t have to worry about being raped during church services and I envy them. I have periodic fantasies of buying some land out in the country somewhere, where I can be in nature and feel safe at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard not to hate men for all the freedoms they enjoy. They might be afraid of being mugged in an isolated place, but not usually raped. On the tv shows where the police officer trying to get the suspect to confess or take a deal threatens them with the likelihood that they’ll be raped in jail, pretty boy that they are, I can tell this thought horrifies men. It’s like it’s this horrific, rare, exceptional thing to be in regular danger of being raped. For women it’s this horrific, common, usual thing to be in regular danger of being raped.

To point this sort of thing out is to be labelled a man hater. Bullshit! Facts are facts, and not facing them doesn’t make them not true. Men rape women more than women rape men. A lot more. Men kill women more than women kill men. A lot more. Does this mean men are bad? No. It means that we encourage men (and boys) to behave violently toward women (and girls), and mostly let them get away with it when they do.  According to Raine Eisler, the military necessity of being able force a lower status man to objectify and kill a total stranger or be killed depends on this training, and it seems so does a lot of economic conquest and battle. I know lots of honourable men, but even they are uncomfortable with these facts. It’s like being a white person trying not to cooperate with racism in apparteid-era South Africa. If you’re not a full time activist, there are lots of daily ways to be complicit in thought or deed with the injustice the society around you is hell bent on perpetuating.

So what would genius-level IQ, creative, musically talented me have been if I hadn’t been a woman in a household with a rapist in a culture that lets fathers rape their children? Is is too late to be a portion of what I might have been? I don’t even know how to find out.

Bloggy Award Nominations and Coming Out

Honour-bound, as I am to nominate some bloggy award winners (5) I’ve decided to start in manageable steps.

Here’s the thing. A blog about “incest survivors, sprituality and ceremonies of justice” is kind of a conversation stopper. In order to be able to feel absolutely honest here, I’ve avoided any mention of who I am and where I am in my posts. Continue reading Bloggy Award Nominations and Coming Out

Collecting the Soul Fragments

There is this bit in the last book of the Harry Potter series, about how Lord Voldemort can’t die because a piece of his soul has been kept safe, all the time, inside Harry.

I’ve been wondering, all this time, why my father hasn’t died yet. He’s old, he’s a heavy smoker, he’s had organs removed from cancer, he’s a heavy drinker. If with all that he can live to almost 70, little organic eating, non-smoking, non-drinking me will live forever.  He DESERVES to die, he’s a waste of air and water and food, but yet he keeps on ticking. The last time he was ill enough to die, I toyed with going to his town and telling the health care professionals working so hard to keep him alive all the reasons why they shouldn’t bother. However, why torture innocent people with the knowledge they are duty bound to save a life that vastly doesn’t deserve it? Damn our excellent health care system!

Yesterday in my counselling session, I realized that, like Harry and Voldemort,  a part of my soul is still bound to my father, and so, perhaps, him to me.  Myself at 4 years old, innocent and trusting, open and loving her daddy, a year before he began raping me, still lives within me. She mourns for the smart, musical and creative man who did not ignore her like her mother, who carried her on his shoulders and made her feel tall.  I realize I’ve had this romantic image of the ‘good father’ that was taken away by the ‘monster’.  Several years ago, I even wrote a song about it:

My daddy played the best guitar, knew all my favourite songs.
He loved to sing with me, and I loved to sing along.
We never needed a stereo, we never ever used one.
We played our own music and we sang our own songs.

My daddy had a banjo, with broken strings, a ukelele for the little ones.
And the night his father died, he played the piano,
moonlight sonata all night long.
One night a monster swallowed him, and I believe beneath its skin,
though I can’t hear him, my daddy’s singing still.
And I wish I could sing with my daddy again….

Cause my Daddy played the best guitar, knew all my favourite songs.
He loved to sing with me and I loved to sing along.
We never needed a stereo, we never ever used one.
We played our own music and we sang our own songs.

But I’ll never sing with my Daddy again, he was taken away, a long time ago.
I never got to say goodbye, he never said he’d be leaving.
He left his guitar, and me,
Behind, and he,
was gone.

I realized that romanticizing the few morsels of positive fathering I recieved doesn’t serve me. My father is a narcisist. He never did anything that wasn’t driven by his own ego. Singing with me allowed him to show off his own talent and his talented and cute little daughter. It wasn’t about loving me.

In my session, I drew this little girl to me, feeling her energy around my heart. I drew up a dome of protection around us, sealing her and I off from him and severing the cord that held her and him, and therefore me and him, together. I drew this little soul fragment, so long lost, back to me into the silence of a rusty blood red silent dome. Giving up the illusion that I once, briefly, had a loving father in my life, is worth having her back.

In the Deathly Hallows, the final Harry Potter book (bless you Joanne Rowlings for creating this world of soul and honour! What a shame the movies discard those qualities.) Harry allows Voldemort to kill him, invoking a kind of saviour magic that protects his loved ones with his sacrifice. Voldemort actually instead ends up killing off the final bit of soul he’d inadvertently left inside Harry. Until this piece of soul inside Harry is dead, Voldemort can’t be killed iether. How true is Rowlings intuition that our abusers leave bits of their fragmented souls in us to live on. I can relate to Harry’s unwanted flashbacks of his parents murder, unwanted ties to the emotions of his nemesis, his struggles to block Voldemorts access to his thoughts.

After Voldemort ‘kills’ Harry, Harry is left in a kind of limbo, where Voldemort’s flailed, whimpering and fragmented soul lies whimpering under a bench in a train station. I think that must be what my father’s soul looks like, with so many pieces broken off and rotted by his horrific actions. Like Voldemort, I don’t think my father will invoke remorse to heal himself before he dies.

Unlike Harry, I can find where my father’s soul is still clinging to mine. My soul, like Harry’s was always whole and untouched, through abuse and ridicule from school-mates who compounded the problem by teasing me for being damaged, being different, and through betrayal by my mother, who chose to comply with evil rather than save me and herself.

Perhaps with this last passionate tie to him gone, my soul and my father’s can part ways, and he can die at last.

Sharpening the Sword to Dance on My Abusers Grave

A woman's sword

So I now have the sword I’m going to use to dance on my fathers grave, when he will do me and the world the favour of finally succumbing to cancer. It’s a tai chi sword, with a kind of feminine, watery feel to it, with a wooden handle and a red cord to hang it by.

It’s meant to represent my inner iron, my strength and will and intellect, all my power that I’ve used throughout my life to fight my smart, brutal, dominant, creative father. The fact I haven’t seen him in over 20 years, doesn’t mean I don’t fight him regularly. Continue reading Sharpening the Sword to Dance on My Abusers Grave

Numbness

When I was about 20 years old I realized how numb I was all the time. I remember concentrating really hard, but being unable to feel anything in my foot. No sensation of cold or warmth, only a faint sensation if my skin was touched,  and literally no proprioception, no awareness of where my foot was unless I was looking at it. The same was true of most parts of my body.

I spent a long time learning to be grounded, which in my faith tradition is pretty important. We spend the first few minutes of any religious ceremony in meditation to connect ourselves with the sensations and energy flow of our body, something I was at first unable to do.

Now, 20 years later, I’m typing this with cold hands, typinghandssomething I’m easily able to ignore from lots of practice ignoring discomfort, but at least I know where my hands are and how they feel without looking at them or touching them.

Not all of my body is completely reclaimed. I still have a hard time feeling anything in the sexually designated parts of my body, which makes for lovemaking where the ‘foreplay’ activities of stroking and touching the ‘not usually seen as sexual’ parts of my body is particularly important. Most times I’m just grateful I can have sex at all, and with someone I love and who loves me to boot. However, although I’m a good ‘active’ lover according to reviews, I’m probably quite boring to make love to, since I have to be still and concentrate so hard to feel anything at all.

I understand where ‘stone butches’ come from – women who get their pleasure from making love to another woman and won’t permit themselves to be made love to. If you can’t feel anything, making someone else happy is much more interesting.

Dancing on my father’s grave won’t win me back my body. That’s something I have to do for myself.  However, it makes sense to me to renounce him in such a physical way, to use the tool he tried to steal from me to defeat him.

Bloggy Award

The Prestigious Bloggy Award
The Prestigious Bloggy Award

I received an email today letting me know I’d won a bloggy award from butterfly of Reasons You Shouldn’t Fuck Kids. Butterfly said “I’ve awarded you the superior scribbler award, because I love this blog. Thank you for writing it.”

I recommend her blog as well – it’s sword-sharp about the reality of living with the effects of being sexually abused as a child, in a very satisfying and heartening (to me) way. I’m all about breaking the silence and taboos around the rape and sexual abuse of children. It’s the rapists shame, not ours.

Anyhow, since the bloggy is kind of a chain letter award, I’m honour bound to pass it on to five other blogs and to post the following rules:

1) Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends (see below).
2) Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award (see above).
3) Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
4) Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List.
5) Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

The Night of the Mother

The holiday of Yule and Christmas are both associated with motherhood and the birth of a sun, son or new year.

This holiday season is my first in several years without paying lip service to the idea that I still have a family. Last year, I went away to a ski resort with my spouse, mother and brother. I hated being trapped in one place with her, where I could not get away, but I stayed as short a time as possible and with my partner and brother there it was not so bad.

In the previous 5 or so years since she left my abuser, mom would tell me which of the days around the holiday she’d have off, normally a day and a half including Christmas eve and part of Christmas day. She would come to my city and eat dinner on one of the days with myself and my partner, at our house (where I can get away) stay overnight and then leave in the morning. After that short visit, I’d be tired, and possibly a bit irritated with her incessant neediness and demands for attention, but would still live solidly within my own skin.

I enjoy spending time with my younger brother, whose only flaw, from my perspective, is his enmeshment with my mother. My older brother seems to have a violent reaction to connection to my mother, like he feels that she had tried to colonize him emotionally in some way he had to fight off.

Me, I’ve been grieving. I’ve finally recognized that I have no mother. My mother was never my ally, never my saviour and likely will never be willing to face her own demon. Just because I was able to claw myself away from my father, both physically and psychically and become a strong, independent woman, doesn’t mean my mother will do it. She left him physically, finally, but she is still living within his shadow in many ways, by living a life filled so full of work and spending, sleep deprived and exhausted, so that she need not think about all the things she didn’t want to remember.

I almost walked into the trap again of waiting for her to be the heroine she has proven time and again that she will never be. When asked what it would take to be comfortable with having her in my life, I figured out that what I needed from her. I would ask her to go to therapy weekly, reduce her workload to a maximum of 40 hours per week, and save money for her retirement. If she could stick to that for a year, I’d be able to have an actual relationship with her.

I assumed that weekly therapy would also result in a confession of her involvement in covering up my abuse or at least telling me truthfully what she had observed. If she was in weekly therapy, she would have to be honest with herself, and hopefully, eventually, me. If she was working a reasonable work week, she’d have to look after her own life and body, and wouldn’t be so needy and exhausted when we were together. If she saves for her retirement, it would be a tangible sign that she was looking after herself, instead of blowing her money as fast as she earns it, looking to be rescued by someone else.

Then I realized this for the trap it is. It allows me to transfer the ball to her court – make her responsible for us being estranged because she would never be able to comply with my request.

So here I sit. I don’t want to be around my needy, in denial mother, a woman with whom I have very few shared interests. In grief, asking her to be a heroine in order to win my love is just bargaining with the inevitable. My mother must save herself. I can change only myself.

Buying the sword to dance on my abusers grave.

Why am I publishing such personal information on the web? My therapist thinks that my process might be of value to others, and I’m proud of defying the silence that supported my abuser and unfortunately still supports the abusers that are raping children today. If incest and rape is taboo to talk about, it reinforces the shame that survivors don’t deserve and helps no-one but the perpetrators.

I’ve spent about 20 years actively healing from being abused by my father, and now he’s dying. I don’t know how fast he’s dying. He’s got cancer, and this is his second bout of it, and he’s old. All of that says to me that he’s dying.

He’s a lifelong smoker and heavy drinker. It’s surprising to me that he hasn’t died yet. I’ve often wondered why the Gods would keep him alive. Surely he deserves to be dead. Now I think it’s because I hadn’t yet prepared for his death. When your mortal enemy dies, it is a rite of passage. When a pagan person’s ancestor dies, they normally become part of their community of dead, to be venerated and remembered yearly at Samhain. My father needs to have this right formally revoked. I have disowned him in life, and this ceremony will disown him in death. I am asking my grandmothers and maternal grandfather, who are all dead, to assist me in making this happen.

This past weekend I bought a sword to dance over. The sword will represent my strength. It will represent the watery emotional and psychic battle I have waged with him (the sword is a tai chi sword and feels watery, somehow). As a sword, in my Wiccan faith tradition it represents boundaries and intellect, another way I have fought with my father. The iron represents my inner iron, the crisp and sharp strength I have exercised throughout my life.

The sword dance was traditionally performed on the death of an enemy, on the battlefield. The warrior’s sword and that of the enemy are crossed, and a dance that faces the four directions is danced over the crossed swords. I think it was originally a dance of celebration, but also a dance of banishing an enemy spirit from following the warrior off the battlefield. Cancer can kill my father for me, but I will celebrate his death and bind and banish his ghost with this ceremony.

I will cross my sword with a wand representing my father’s strength that was used against me. The stick will be freshly cut, and a thickness slightly larger than my father’s thumb.

The common phrase “rule of thumb” refers to the regulation in British Common Law that controlled the diameter of the stick a man was allowed to beat his wife, his human property, with. If the diameter was larger than his thumb, beating his human chattel was illegal. It refers to what allowed and supported my father in raping me – our culture’s tacit granting of ownership of women’s bodies to the men they designate as their masters.

By this dance I renounce the custom of formal or informal ownership of women and children by men.

Now, people will say, that may have been true a century ago, but no man owns a child or woman. I say, you have not seen what I’ve seen. If a man can rape you and no-one steps in to help, because he has a specific legal relationship to you, because he’s your father or husband, then how is that different from ownership?

Then of course there are all the jokes equating one’s ‘big stick’ with the weapon my father used to torture me. It is an appropriate fit to represent his power.

After the dance, I will break his stick.

May we outlive them all, and dance upon their graves

The first time my father raped me I was about 5 years old. The last time, I’m not sure, maybe 13. He strangled me till I lost consciousness, possibly to stop me from screaming. I was so young that, not knowing what passing out from lack of air was,  I deduced from the pain and the unconsciousness that I’d actually died. My mother appeared to take no notice of what must have been the obvious signs of distress in her little girl. When we finally had a conversation about it, after I’d grown up and left the house forever, she said she believed me, but continued to live with my father for another 14 years. You would think raping your daughter, or any woman for that matter, is worth leaving your husband over. Apparently not.

My father is dying of cancer, hopefully quickly and painfully.

The Goddess Brigid
The Goddess Brigid

I’m planning to dance a sword dance on his grave.

I’ve started this blog to write about this, but now I find myself unable to write.

I found this picture of the Goddess Brigit with a sword that appeals to me. We women need to fight back, we survivors need to fight back against the silence and prejudice that keeps the abusers free and the survivors invisible.

The picture appeals to me because it represents the strength that is divine and female and cannot be silenced. The strength that is the iron core, the sword inside that we survivors use to fight for our lives and our happiness.

Punishment

What kind of punishment suits my father? my mother?

I’ve long thought that the punishment within my reach that would be most appropriate would be to sue him into poverty. An added bonus is that it would also take away my mom’s dubious reward for staying with him all those years, protecting their shared equity.

Yes, I could, and did, pursue criminal charges against him. I filed a police report against him, and 7 or eight years later when the crown investigated (yes, it did take that long) they decided they had a good case to lay charges. The way the crown prosecutor explained it to me, abusers make terrible and uncredible witnesses because they’re lying, and people can tell. However, in those days, the norm for a daughter accusing her father of abuse was for her to just be grateful it was over after the 3 years of agonizing and life-sucking legal proceedings, and to be disheartened with the three year or suspended sentence slap on the wrists given to men who have done the worst think one human being can do to another, barring murder.

Because of this, and the fact that I was about to move to another region with my then boyfriend, I told the prosecutor that I did not need him to pursue the case on my account. If he wanted to pursue it to protect the public or other victims, he had my support as a witness, but I didn’t need him to do it on my account. He called me (or did he write, I forget?) and told me that they would have pressed charges but for my letter. I still kind of regret not going forward, having him dealt with for good, a closure I’m now looking to receive from his death from cancer, hopefully soon.

But suing him into the ground would be much better than a slap on the wrist. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years on therapy. I’ve spent a thousand dollars this year alone, directly related to his abuse and my mothers complicity with it.

So I had a look on the internet about it. I couldn’t determine the legal time limitations on suing someone damages relating to sexual assault or parental breach of fiduciary duty. Apparently, due to the work of some blessed feminist lawyers, the clock doesn’t start ticking on limitations until the victim realizes the harm she experienced is related to her childhood abuse. However, I realized that about twenty years ago, so I think I might be out of luck. This isn’t really fair. It takes a long time for a woman to heal enough and be in a strong enough place with herself that she could sue the bastard for the abuse she’s spent most of her life overcoming. The statute of limitations is supposed to prevent cases with really stale evidence coming forward. The evidence I have, namely the effects on my person, are still there as much as they were twenty years ago, I’ve just learned to cope better, so it doesn’t really apply in my case. Whatever evidence the police compiled when they investigated twelve or so years ago is probably still there somewhere.

My only legal victory is the knowledge that the police in my home town know he’s a child sexual abuser, that they hauled him down to court and read him my charges against him. And it probably terrified him. According to my mother, the police officers treated him the way one would expect or hope to expect they would treat a man who rapes children. This is the small piece of justice I have, knowing that the police in his town know what he is, and he knows they know.

A real source of betrayal is the fact my mom refused to speak to the police about it. Was she afraid of perjuring herself?

Dancing on his grave will have to be enough. Dancing in defiance and relief and victory and celebration.

My Mother

mothers-day-card
The real meaning of mother’s day

November 22nd.

I have come to understand that my mother knew and chose to do nothing.

When I was 18 or thereabouts, I wrote my mother a letter telling her what my father had done to me. That he’d raped me and sexually abused me, beginning when I was quite young and continuing for years.

To her credit, she said believed me immediately, that it was “something he would do”.

She told me afterward that she spend the next several months crying and hiding from my father at night by sleeping in their bedroom closet.

Women leave their husbands for a lot of reasons – alcoholism, physical abuse, cheating or because they just don’t love them any more. Not my mother. My father drank himself unconscious almost every night. He slapped her at least once, an action I heard from the next room, and which my brother witnessed. He raped me, beginning when I was five years old. Despite clearly being in distress, and showing no signs I could discern that she felt anything for my father but revulsion, she didn’t leave at any time during my childhood, or in the 14 years after that letter. I begged her several times to leave, told her her duty as a mother and a feminist demanded it, but she didn’t. She told me afterward it was because no-one would help her.

I’m not sure what kind of help she needed. She traveled regularly, visited her relatives, who seemed to care about her, and was in enough contact with feminists to have access to information about shelters and welfare. She never asked me for a plane ticket or a place to stay to help her leave, or anything else. Fourteen years later, she finally left, but not because of me. She told me that since I was no longer in danger, she could take her time and leave when the time was right. She said she’d finally left in order to have a relationship with her children, two of whom would no longer have contact with her.

During my childhood, my father was known to make inappropriate sexual comments to adult women, including my mothers brother’s wife, my aunt. The insult he paid her was so severe my uncle and aunt severed contact with my family over it, but no-one wondered, to my knowledge, whether his daughter was at risk.

Except perhaps my mother.

A couple of years after I wrote her the letter, my mother, trying to repair her relationship with me, attended a joint therapy session with herself, her therapist and I. During this session I asked her to do a basic listening exercise, where I said couple of sentences and she would repeat back what she heard. There, in a different city from my father, with her therapist present, rather than repeat a simple sentence, that my father had raped me over a period of about ten years, beginning when I was about five, my mother ran screaming to the bathroom. She could not do it.

When I was little and being raped, it was just down the hall from where my mother slept. My father would drink himself unconscious, then wake up a few hours later, dragging his clumsy hands along the hallway to the bathroom where if he intended to rape me, would go in and pee. He would then come out and enter my room, which was directly across from the main bathroom. If he intended to go to sleep, he would continue down the hallway to his bedroom and pee in the ensuite bathroom.

I believe she must have known, and that’s why she didn’t leave later on, that she’d already decided long before to stay, no matter what.  If his drinking, hitting her, verbal abuse and the embarassment of his sexual sleaziness was not enough reason to leave, what was the rape of a daughter she could not have truly valued?

All of this, the hand dragging, the stumbling down the hallway, the peeing, the flushing in the middle of the night made some noise. I know I heard it. I’d lie awake waiting for the sounds that would indicate I was in danger or safe for the night. One night that I know of, that my mother admits, she intercepted him after he left the bathroom and was entering my room. She steered him down the hall to their bedroom. She claims she just didn’t imagine he’d abuse me.

Clearly I don’t get my imagination from her, since I am quite able to imagine abuse. However, perhaps that’s not fair. I didn’t need to imagine it.

So now that I stare all this in the face, waiting for my father to die, what do I say to my mother when she wants to get together for the holidays?  How do I respond to her when she wants to hang out, have lunch and visit, when she’d like me to make a fuss over her for mothers day or visit her at her home? I can’t imagine it.

Note added May 2012:  A few years later than this post, I found proof that my mother had known about the rapes, in the form of scars on my body from injuries she would not have been able to miss.  Later posts in this blog describe that process of learning about the scars, as I was experiencing it.  I have since severed all contact with my mother, who was a criminal accomplice to the rapes. These scars also validated several memories of the assaults.